Adventure travel in Ireland: Is this Europe's newest adventure capital?

There was a time when adventure travel in Ireland constituted a long crawl from bar to inviting Dublin bar or a night of music-fuelled revelry in a cubby-hole pub in a country town.

But now, as neighbouring Britain plunges back into the dark ages following Brexit, this proudly European nation is moving on, casting tourism cliches into the drink and reinventing itself as the continent's would-be adventure capital.

Arriving in Dublin on a warm summer's day, I give my (Euro) skepticism no time to brew, heading straight to its central Grand Canal dock to try an adrenaline sport that promises to tighten my midriff rather than render it ovoid.

Usually done off the back of a speedboat, and similar to waterskiing but on only one runner, wakeboarding is the last activity I expected to be trying in central Dublin.

However, thanks to Ireland's first cable wakeboarding park, where a cable system is strung between two towers in the canal, that's exactly what I'm attempting, soon after yanking myself into a wetsuit.

Beginning off a platform beneath one tower, I clamp my feet onto a broad but short board and slip into the cold canal, grasping the handle that will propel me along the roughly 200-metre long course.

"Now point your stronger leg forward," says the cable operator, as I lie like a cradled baby in the water, "and keep your knees bent and arms straight."

Two seconds later I'm jolted out of my comfort zone and am on my feet, ploughing through the canal at speed.

After a further three seconds I'm hurtling head-first into the dark but reassuringly clean-tasting water.

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Back on the surface, I flounder for a moment before remembering that the cable system will quickly bring the handle back around again, meaning I don't need to swim to the quayside.

I resume position A, am heaved out of the water again and this time last a few more seconds on bandy legs, before reacquainting my tonsils with Dublin's finest canal water.

So it continues for about an hour, until, shamed by my Irish companion Aiofe, whose first attempts at riding the wakeboard make it seem like she was born attached to it, I manage almost a complete circuit of the course. Before inevitably ending, just as my smile reaches its broadest, with a hefty face-plant.

Having activated tummy muscles I didn't know I had, it takes days before I can walk upright again.

When I recover I am in the West of Ireland, where the dramatic coastline, mountains and inland waterways are made for adventure.

Indeed in 2014, the Wild Atlantic Way, a 2500-kilometre driving route that traverses the west coast, was launched as a precursor to a campaign highlighting dynamic ways of exploring this coastline. These activities include scuba diving on sunken German Uboats off Donegal, coasteering (a mix of climbing, jumping off cliffs and swimming) and kayaking on coastal lakes.

I begin my coastal adventures with a kayaking trip in the seaside city of Galway, nicknamed the "Venice of the West" by WB Yeats for its network of waterways.

Guided by local Jim Morrissey, a world-class kayak racer, this is nonetheless a gentle dawn paddle.

We launch from a tiny fishing village on the city fringes, pushing through reeds as the morning mist begins to lift over Lough Corrib​ – Ireland's largest lake – before we follow the river of the same name into one of the country's most animated university towns.

However, there's little sign of Galway's 17,000 students, out of a population of 75,000, at 8am, and more sightings of dozy swans and ducks gliding along the river, than humans.

People are equally thin on the ground in the beautiful Connemara region, with its heavily indented coastline and seaside villages, to the north. But I'm not here (primarily) to socialise, so much as to be put through my paces by Leenane-based Connemara Adventure Tours.

This begins with a few hours morning mountain biking part of the Western Way cycling trail, huffing and puffing through rubbly hills and pine forest, adjacent to Lough Inagh.

Then I spend an hour on Lough Killary​, a fjord-like inlet from the sea in the heart of Connemara, that forms a natural border between County Galway to the south and County Mayo in the north. It is 16 kilometres long and 45 deep in places, and extremely cold.

I know this from experience because, after kayaking for about an hour, I am persuaded by our guide, Calum Johnson, that it would be fun to scale some waterside cliffs, clamber along a ledge and then jump off a prominent rock, six or seven metres high, into the icy Lough.

To be fair I am wearing a wetsuit and a bunch of others, including a glamorous lipstick lesbian from Toronto, are taking the plunge as well.

But it still goes against my better nature. Especially when we graduate to another, even taller rock ledge, and I hit the water spread-eagled and like a lead weight.

I emerge with everything except my dignity in tact.

Once back in Leenane, I'm rewarded though with the scintillating experience of a hot seaweed bath, an oily coating of algae forming over my hair and skin as I wallow.

After several days of challenging adventures, the bath eases aching muscles, soothes my bruised pride and proves that these days, there is more than one way in Ireland, to enjoy a skinful.

The writer was a guest of Tourism Ireland and the Adventure Travel Association.

TRIP NOTES

MORE INFORMATION

Ireland.com

GETTING THERE

British Airways flies to London from Sydney with onward connections to Dublin. See ba.com

Galway is three hours by train from Dublin.

TOURING THERE

Wakedock.ie, on South Dock Road, Dublin, offer one-hour wakeboarding passes, including wet suit and board, from €25 ($37).

Kayakmor.com have half-day kayaking tours around Galway and Lough Corrib for €65.

Connemaraadventuretours.com based in Leenane in Connemara has a range of multi-day adventure tours including trekking, cycling, kayaking and coaststeering.

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